The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Ah, critiques. The most anticipated and dreaded event clouding over all Parsons students for every assignment.
Love them or hate them, critiques are a staple part of art school. My experience with critiques has been polarizing: they either go amazingly well or simply catastrophic. Indeed, critiques can either be exactly what you need to move forward or a brutal, demoralizing experience that doesn’t get you anywhere.
The common denominator, however, is how much I felt heard. Did I manage to get my idea across? Did my peers seem to understand my intentions and give feedback accordingly? Was my professor impressed? Did people care at all about my work?
Regardless of whether you’ve found your footing in critiques or still find yourself freezing up, these are some things EVERYONE hates hearing in critique (and suggestions of what to do/say instead!).
Picture this: You’ve just presented your work. Two minutes in and it’s been absolute silence. Then someone pipes up, “It’s interesting…”
No elaboration. Just that one word.
You start to panic.
Because what does “interesting” even mean? Is your work “interesting” because it’s excellent, never-been-done-before, phenomenal, breaking boundaries? Or is it interesting because it’s bad, badder-than-bad, bad-beyond-words?
Listen, I get it. Silence can be awkward and someone has to break the ice. This particular adjective may be the easiest thing to say in response. However, without elaboration, it means nothing.
So the next best thing to do is exactly that: elaborate! What about the piece is worth noting? What jumps out to you first? Is it the story behind it, the inspiration, the execution? Is there another work it reminds you of?
- Not understanding the artist’s intention.
There’s nothing more frustrating than your peers not understanding the intention behind your work or not being able to properly convey it at all. Perhaps this is because our work is often strongly connected to our own personal lives — our upbringing, culture and values. Presenting the work can be daunting all in itself, and so it’s all the more discouraging when your peers do not seem to get it at all.
On the other hand, not understanding your peer’s work can lead to a lot of assumptions in order to fill in the blanks. Maybe it’s because you don’t understand why it’s done this way instead of another or you’re not familiar with their influences. Or maybe it’s the language barrier preventing your classmate from getting across their point.
So the easiest solution to this is to just ask. Most students are more than happy to elaborate on their project. Plus, it saves all the defensiveness and hurt that could arise from being misunderstood.
- Affirmation without elaboration.
As nice as “I like it”s are, they are ultimately not as helpful in the long run. While this doesn’t mean that you can’t compliment your peers on their good work, you may consider being more specific in your affirmations.
What part of the piece do you appreciate the most? Is there anything they can improve on, conceptually and technically?
- Being rude.
This should be self-explanatory. The whole point of critique is to help each other improve, and honesty can go a long way. However, there is a thin line between honesty and pure offense.
When pointing out something negative, stick to the objective perspective as much as you can. You can refer to the basic elements and principles of design — is the piece lacking in balance? How can they make it more cohesive as a whole (colors, lines, values, etc.)? Avoid offering unnecessary quips such as “If I saw this on the streets, I would keep walking.” Remember to be considerate; it takes courage to even present in the first place.
Maybe your peer’s work is indeed that good, so much that it renders you speechless. Or maybe it’s on the other side of the spectrum. Either way, it leaves you without a thing to say. Hence, an uncomfortable silence ensues.
It can be helpful to refer to the basic four parts of critique: Describe, Analyze, Interpretation, Judgement. Describe what you just saw, break it down into elements and principles, analyze what works well and what needs more work, and judge whether the artist has successfully delivered their message.
I find that most people agree that silence is worse than harsh criticism. The lack of reaction could indicate disinterest from your audience, which always sucks when you’ve put in hours upon hours of work into the piece. So if you have anything of value to say, speak up! Your classmate would appreciate it.